Hawai'i State News

New report finds need for social workers growing in Hawaiʻi

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The University of Hawaiʻi has published a new report, “Social Work in Hawaiʻi: A Workforce Profile.”

In a new report, “Social Work in Hawaiʻi: A Workforce Profile,” the current state of the social work profession in Hawai‘i is detailed with data and an historical analysis.

The report, published during National Social Work Month, is by University of Hawaiʻi faculty members Robin Arndt, Cliff Bersamira, Theresa Kreif and Rebecca Stotzer at the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health.

Research topics included social work education programs, job market statistics and barriers to obtaining licensure. The findings include:

  • Growing need for social workers: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts this demand will increase 12 percent in the next 10 years, which is above the national average. At a time when staffing shortages plague the profession, accurate information about social work’s career trajectories is vital.
  • Better data needed: Identifying and quantifying individuals with a social work background who are employed in other roles — such as a counselor, outreach worker or behavioral health specialist — remains a significant challenge and represents one of the most significant gaps in social work data.
  • Licensing laws require revisions: Although the current social work licensing laws have provided a solid foundation for the profession and its scope of practice in the state, they require revision to enhance their original purpose and improve their implementation. For example, it is imperative to clarify and distinguish between licensed social worker and licensed clinical social worker, and clearly define the scope of practice for positions that necessitate these licenses. Further efforts must be made to strengthen the laws and ensure their proper implementation.

In Hawaiʻi, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports about 3,000 social workers are employed in “Child, Family, and School Social Work,” “Healthcare Social Workers,” “Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers” and “Other Social Workers.”

The Health Resources and Services Administration reported there are more than 2,000 social workers employed in medical or health settings.

Surveys done by the Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i found 60 open positions for social workers in healthcare settings. Open positions often go unfilled, and many are closed
due to no applicants, particularly on the Big Island, Kauaʻi and Maui.


“As we work toward the growth of the social work workforce in Hawai‘i and the Pacific, we continue to build upon social work strengths of interdisciplinary collaborations, to continue to grow pathways from high school through academic degrees,” Interim Dean Tetine Sentell said.

As a part of its efforts to address workforce needs and assist students in connecting with future employers, the Thompson School recently hosted the Social Work and Public Health Career & Practicum Fair to connect students to local social service-connected organizations. More than 30 agencies attended, offering students a variety of internship and employment opportunities.

“This workforce report clearly shows the significance of investing in social work education,” said Jing Guo, associate professor and social work department chair. “As the only university in Hawai‘i which has three levels of social work educational programs, [Bachelors of Social Work, Masters of Social Work and a PhD in social welfare], UH Mānoa is committed to its mission of educational excellence and training future social workers.”


The Department of Social Work is hopeful its workforce report will help identify the next steps in developing the social work workforce by emphasizing the need for more accurate data and information about the field, a UH press release said.

“The more we know about the needs of individuals and communities, the more we are able to work closely with employers, including state agencies and nonprofit organizations, to collaborate to be part of the solution to addressing needs in the social work connected workforce,” co-authors Arndt and Krief said. 

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